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Opinion

Positioning panchayats as agents of change in India – analysis

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Panchayats have always been an integral part of India since ancient times. There are many references to this in shastras such as Manusmriti, Arthasastra and Mahabharata. In the pre-independence era, Mahatma Gandhi emphasized village-level self-government to improve the local economy and ensure overall development. He believed in the bottom-up approach.

After Independence, almost a third of the villages in India had traditional panchayats, but their performance was below average. One of the most important efforts was to establish a committee in 1957 to study Community Projects and the National Extension Service. Among other points, the three-tier system is recommended. But the decisive year for the Panchayati Raj system was 1992-93, when Amendment Law 73 gave the constitutional status to the gram sabha.

In accordance with bottom-up tradition, the current government has done everything possible to improve the functioning of the panchayats. On Panchayati Raj National Day, 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about the empowerment of women and called for an end to the practice of “sarpanchpati”, which is the husband acting in place of the sarpanch woman. In April 2016, the Panchayati Raj ministry celebrated National Panchayat Day by organizing the “Gramodaya Se Bharat Uday Abhiyan” at panchayats across the country to sensitize the masses and other stakeholders to the programs and activities carried out under the Abhiyan.

Efforts have been made at the national level to strengthen the Panchayati Raj system and, through it, promote social harmony, promote the well-being of farmers, support the livelihoods of the poor, and enhance rural development. In April 2016, a conference for panchayat representatives resolved to bring urban services to villages, fight for open defecation-free villages, and ensure sufficient toilets for women in the villages.

The 14th Finance Commission (FFC) had recommended secured transfers to local rural agencies for the provision of basic services. He advised that the expenses incurred by panchayats in basic services should follow the rules and regulations. He proposed that elected representatives should use rural agency funds in accordance with FCC recommendations, in planning and providing basic services such as water supply, sanitation, waste management, and road and trail maintenance. He also emphasized the need for Gram Panchayat Development Plans (GPDP).

Other initiatives taken by the government include monitoring outcomes, such as preventing malnutrition among children, the availability of an adequate diet for pregnant women below the poverty line, and the guarantee of zero victims during childbirth. It also includes ensuring regular panchayat and gram sabha committee meetings.

In addition, people living in villagers and elected representatives were encouraged to work for solid waste management. They were asked to maintain close and regular interaction with school authorities to ensure punctuality in attendance. To guarantee the health of children in the villages, immunization campaigns have been launched. Steps have been taken to economically empower villages and improve their purchasing power, which in turn will help economic empowerment. Programs such as Mahatma Gandhi’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005, have helped create durable assets. The e-NAM Yojana has also been planned to perform Bhartodaya through Gramodaya.

In 2018, the People’s Plan Campaign (PPC) was conceived to institutionalize the GPDP. Sabki Yojana Sabka Vikas (PPC-I), from October 2 to December 31, 2018, was intended for planning at the gram sabha level, through a convergence between the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) and the line departments . The second PPC (PPC-II) started on October 2, 2019, with the aim of preparing GPDP for the entire panchayat by 2020-21. Preparatory activities include a central portal, the appointment of nodal officers at the state, district, and block levels, the front-line worker delegation, the establishment of a dedicated Project Monitoring Unit, and the organization of special gram sabhas. In addition, it establishes the roles and responsibilities of the ministries, departments and facilitators, stipulates time lines, organizes an effective communication system and helps in creating the environment.

Each state has its initiatives on, for example, refresher training and joint training programs for elected officials and representatives. Thematic training is provided to make panchs (the leader of the panchayat) “agents of change.” The details of the state and central schemes have also been prepared as brochures for general awareness of various convergence schemes. Resource teams, including the Gram Panchayat Planning Facilitation Team, also participated to ensure training down to the grassroots level. The National Institute for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj have also played a central role in the training and education initiatives during the two campaigns.

A Mission Antyodaya (MA) survey was conducted, measuring 146 parameters, covering gaps covering infrastructure, human development, and economic development in 29 states. The survey provided the baseline data for GPDP preparation by gram panchayats (GP). Importance was given to the convergence of the PRI self-help group, and a livelihood action plan was prepared with the support of the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM).

Some states have established help desk systems at the district level. States have also created social media tools like WhatsApp and email groups to answer questions. Wide publicity has been given to include so many schemes that converge with the schemes of the rural development ministry, health ministry, women’s ministry and child development.

In particular, PPC-I focused on capacity building for gender mainstreaming activities, convergence with the NRLM, and the establishment of working groups to prepare schemes for women’s economic development. PPC-II took a step forward by including the Women’s Components Program (WCP) in GPDP (as in the case of Manipur and Kerala). The panchayats’ intention and vision to play a proactive role in nation building are in place. All the country needs now is maximum implementation.

Anushree Sinha is a professor and Rajesh Jaiswal is a member of the National Council for Applied Economic Research

The opinions expressed are personal.

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